The Middle East Digest provides text and audio from the Daily Press Briefing. For the full briefings, please visit daily press briefings.
From the Daily Press Briefing of June 8, 2010
MR. CROWLEY: You’ve been asking in recent days regarding the extent of our assistance of humanitarian aid to Gaza. In terms of the current fiscal year, fiscal 2010, we estimate – we’ve appropriated roughly 400 million in assistance to the West Bank and Gaza and right now we estimate that 45 million is committed for humanitarian assistance activities in Gaza and the West Bank so far, as well as $35 million in support of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East, so-called UNRWA. That commitment so far this year is 35 million. If we go back last year, we committed both – close to $200 million in a variety of projects for Gaza and refugee activity and 80 million the previous year. We can go into greater detail if you wish.
MR. CROWLEY: -- where specifically the trucks are coming.
And finally, I want to give you some additional clarity to a topic of conversation you raised yesterday in terms of American citizens in custody in Yemen. We gave you a figure of 12 yesterday. Talking to the post today, actually that number fluctuates from time to time. It can be as high as 20. That number regards the total number of citizens we are aware of and have consular access to regarding any crime committed – allegedly committed within Yemen.
And we should also note that there may well be some people who have dual citizenship and we may not know the entire population of people who are in custody in Yemen at any particular time. But there was some suggestion that there had been new arrests involving terrorism. We can report to you we continue to check with the Yemeni Government and we are not aware of any new arrests on terrorism charges at this point.
Of the people who are currently in custody, we can tell you that there are three citizens, three U.S. citizens currently in custody that we are aware of associated with charges of terrorism, and we have consular access to each. But the one caveat is those people have been arrested in the last couple of months, and so we are not, at the present time, aware of any new arrests regarding terrorism in Yemen.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: These three or perhaps, if you – others that have been released or whatever, or arrested, did the U.S. ask the Yemenis to arrest them based on suspicions that you had on terrorism?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’ll just repeat what I said yesterday. We have close cooperation with the Government of Yemen, mutual support regarding our concerns about al-Qaida and the Arabian Peninsula. And beyond that, I will not comment on the nature of our exchange of information.
QUESTION: Have these three citizens been interrogated by the FBI?
MR. CROWLEY: I do not know.
QUESTION: Can you take the question?
MR. CROWLEY: You can ask the FBI.
QUESTION: On the 12, I mean, yesterday, you were firm about the number. Someone asked you and you said 12; you didn’t qualify it in any way.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. I mean, and the --
QUESTION: Where did that come from?
MR. CROWLEY: Huh?
QUESTION: Where does that come from? Three is a lot different than 12.
MR. CROWLEY: The three – I have my sources. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Apparently not very good.
MR. CROWLEY: No, no, no. But I was very careful yesterday to say that I was not suggesting that the 12 that we are aware of were all associated with terrorism. In fact, you asked me that question. I said I’m not going to go into the details. Just in light of the coverage that we’ve seen --
QUESTION: You didn’t (inaudible) conflicting (inaudible).
MR. CROWLEY: Well, in the light of the coverage that we’ve seen, I can tell you that right now, we are only aware of three American citizens in custody, in Yemen, on terrorism charges. We are continuing to seek information from Yemen as to whether there are additional American citizens in custody that we’re not aware of.
QUESTION: Are you seeking the extradition of these three U.S. citizens back to the United States?
MR. CROWLEY: Extradition?
QUESTION: Well, I guess that indicates that they’ve been --
MR. CROWLEY: I --
QUESTION: But are you asking them to be deported back to the United States?
MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge. I don’t know, but not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: Do you know (inaudible) Americans have been released recently in recent days in Yemen that were associated with any terrorism charges?
MR. CROWLEY: How far do you want to go back? I mean, have people been detained, questioned, and released on a variety of issues? The answer is yes. But again, I wouldn’t necessarily tie that flow to any particular --
QUESTION: To these three? I mean, are they associated at all with the arrests of these three individuals that you’re speaking of?
MR. CROWLEY: Try me again, Justin.
QUESTION: I’m asking if any Americans have been released around the same time frame that these three individuals were arrested.
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t go back and say when was the last time an American citizen in Yemen was detained for questioning and released. I don’t know.
QUESTION: Can I just clarify, real quick, because I think that’s a different take on this question. When you said that there have been none recently, within your definition of recently, have there been any released on (inaudible)?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, let me get to the more specific. There was some reporting that started yesterday that there had been a fresh group of individuals arrested on a terrorism charge. We are unaware of a new wave of arrests in recent days in Yemen.
QUESTION: Let me ask this, then. Does – for a part of a broader context for reporting, saying that there have been 50 Westerners detained on terrorism charges and among those there was some reporting that there were Americans, you’re saying there’s no Americans. Are you aware of broader arrests of other Westerners?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m saying at this point, again, there are three Americans that we are aware of who are currently in Yemeni custody on terrorism charges. We are still seeking information from the Yemeni Government as to whether there have been any new arrests. We are not aware of any new arrests of Americans.
QUESTION: Are you aware of any other (inaudible) as you --
MR. CROWLEY: That would be a question to – I mean, there’s no – there would not necessarily be a reason for we at the State Department to know if there have been arrests of citizens of other countries. I mean, we are cooperating intensively with Yemen on counterterrorism matters. We – and we have a mutual concern about al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. I’m not going to get into the particulars of that cooperation, but we remain in contact with Yemen. And if there are – if we ascertain any additional Americans in custody on terrorism charges, we’ll --
QUESTION: So you’re --
QUESTION: So for clarification, I’m still a little confused. The three Americans you are aware of have – were not arrested recently.
MR. CROWLEY: Correct. All since the first of the year.
QUESTION: And they were --
QUESTION: Since the first of the year.
QUESTION: Did they share with you nature of the charges?
QUESTION: Excuse me.
MR. CROWLEY: We have had consular access to all three.
QUESTION: And you’ve had consular access to those three who were not arrested recently. Now, in regards to the group, the reporting you referred to of an arrest of a large group of people from various nations, in your talking to the Post, there’s been – I mean, what’s the reaction to that story?
MR. CROWLEY: What story? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: The story of the arrest of a large group of people involving as many as 12 Americans.
MR. CROWLEY: All right. This is what I want to get at. The reporting yesterday suggested that we were aware of a new arrest of 12 Americans on terrorism-related charges. We are not aware of a new arrest of any American citizen on terrorism-related charges.
There are a number of people in custody. Twelve’s a good number. If we probably counted them up, it could actually be higher than 12. They’re – they’ve been arrested on a wide range of charges. Ordinary crimes – one has been arrested for murder, three have been arrested on terrorism-related charges. So I’m trying to put – I want to tamp down the idea that there are a fresh batch of 12 Americans arrested in Yemen on terrorism charges.
We are still talking to Yemen. We are asking them if they – to clarify if we have any additional Americans in custody on terrorism charges. At the present time, there have been no new arrests of American citizens, to our knowledge.
QUESTION: But these three --
QUESTION: Did they share the nature of these charges with you?
MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?
QUESTION: Did they share the nature of these charges with you? Specifics?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we – I mean, in that respect, our post in Sana’a is doing what our posts in any capital do. They look after the welfare of American citizens. We have had consular access to them. We’re making sure that their rights are being fully protected. So we are familiar with the charges against them and making sure that they have full rights and – going forward.
QUESTION: Are these three arrested in kind of the crackdown of Yemen after the Abdulmutallab case? Apparently, they’re connected to these kind of language schools and never – and failed to kind of show up to the schools. And you had talked with the Yemenis right after Abdulmutallab about kind of cracking down on these people that you didn’t – that were suspect and you didn’t know their whereabouts. Is this connected with that?
MR. CROWLEY: All I will say is that the three in custody have been apprehended since the first of the year. And I’m not going to go into greater detail about who and what they were necessarily doing from here.
QUESTION: Why have you taken till today to correct the incorrect impression that you left with us yesterday that there were 12 American citizens who were in custody as a result of recent arrests?
MR. CROWLEY: I understand that that was an impression that was left from yesterday’s briefing and I had the opportunity personally to communicate with post this morning and am clarifying it for you.
QUESTION: Because we take our reputations for getting things right very seriously. We quoted you on the record. I have the transcript. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of ambiguity here. And I think if you realize that there’s an error, it’s your obligation to make that public immediately, not wait 18 hours to fix something.
MR. CROWLEY: Okay. And I take that responsibility seriously as well. And I’m fixing it at the first opportunity.
QUESTION: The thing I don’t understand is where the 12 number.
MR. CROWLEY: But I wasn’t responsible for the reporting. Just – I mean, I --
QUESTION: You said, and I’m very happy to read you the transcript if you want –
MR. CROWLEY: Fine. I did –
QUESTION: -- because it’s on the website --
MR. CROWLEY: I never said --
QUESTION: You suggest --
MR. CROWLEY: Arshad, I never said that the 12 people in custody were all on terrorism-related charges. I never said that. I specifically avoided that question.
QUESTION: But it was – so there are – you said yesterday there were 12 Americans in custody. So it’s fair to say that there are 12 Americans that are in custody, that three of them are terrorism-related charges, then, right?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes. Yes.
QUESTION: That’s --
QUESTION: And as many as 20 for various charges --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, the number goes up and down. The number may actually have fluctuated over the past 24 hours. The reporting yesterday was focusing on the prospect of 12 new arrests based on terrorism charges. And I want to make sure that I put that in proper context.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. CROWLEY: Michel, go ahead.
QUESTION: Iranian state television showed a video yesterday of a man identified as a missing nuclear scientist who said he had been abducted and taken to the United States. He claimed the Saudi intelligence cooperated with U.S. intelligence in his abduction. The television said that the video was recorded on April 6 in Arizona. Have you seen this --
MR. CROWLEY: In light of some of that coverage yesterday, a number of people reviewed that video and we are unable to attest to its authenticity.
QUESTION: So are you denying that the U.S. and the Saudis colluded to kidnap an Iranian nuclear scientist?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not commenting on where that individual may be. All I know is that as to whether that particular video depicts a specific individual, we’re unable to --
QUESTION: Well, did the U.S. and the Saudis collude to kidnap the Iranian nuclear scientist?
MR. CROWLEY: We are not in the habit of going around the world and kidnapping people.
QUESTION: You mean under this Administration? No, I mean, there is – actually, there is quite a history of the U.S. in the last several years kidnapping people and taking them to various – are you saying that --
MR. CROWLEY: I --
QUESTION: Are you saying --
MR. CROWLEY: No, no.
QUESTION: Are you saying that the U.S. --
MR. CROWLEY: I will be as specific as I can. If the question is have we kidnapped an Iranian scientist, the answer is no.
QUESTION: Is there any asylum case on this case?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, asylum issue – requests that any individual may proffer to the United States, those are also confidential.
MR. CROWLEY: Jeff.
QUESTION: Change of subject.
QUESTION: Can we stick with this (inaudible)?
QUESTION: Okay. You said you haven’t kidnapped any Iranian. What do you make of Iran’s claim that this man was kidnapped? Is that simply false?
MR. CROWLEY: As to the circumstances of that individual’s – I mean, as I understand it, based on media reports and nothing else, that individual made a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia and that was the last that the Iranians were aware of him. I can tell you that – did the United States kidnap him from Saudi Arabia? The answer is no.
QUESTION: Or from anywhere else? I don’t mean to parse things, but I want to be sure I get this right.
MR. CROWLEY: I understand that. I just made a categorical statement.
QUESTION: No, you made a categorical statement with regard to Saudi Arabia, not with regard to anywhere else in the world.
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I – based on the media reporting, this individual was in Saudi Arabia and the question is: Did the United States kidnap him from Saudi Arabia? The answer is no.
QUESTION: Well, now the question is: Did the U.S. kidnap him at all?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
QUESTION: Is he in the United States?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to comment further. I don’t – I personally don’t know where he is.
QUESTION: P.J., just --
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, Jeff.
QUESTION: I just wanted to come to the sanctions, Iran sanctions, UN Security Council. Can you confirm on the record that there’s pretty much a clear – clear shot at a vote tomorrow with no veto and that the U.S. has a view on it or is on board with it?
MR. CROWLEY: We expect that there will be a vote in the UN Security Council tomorrow.
MR. CROWLEY: No change from what I’ve said before.
QUESTION: None? So you don’t know about the circumstances of the shooting and how --
MR. CROWLEY: We – as we’ve said, we want – we are ascertaining facts. We want to have not only our concern about our citizen but everyone who was killed and injured on those ships – we want a full understanding of what happened. And we’re talking to Israel and others about how to best accomplish that.
QUESTION: Speaking of which, there is the IDF investigation, which we all found out about last night, which, again, seems to close the door on the notion of international participation. Are you concerned that the notion of transparent international participation is not going to happen in terms of this --
MR. CROWLEY: I think we understand that international participation in investigating these matters will be important to the credibility that everybody wants to see as we understand fully what happened last week.
QUESTION: The ambassador --
QUESTION: So you’re going to have U.S. monitors?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m saying we are discussing with Israel and others the prospective nature of international participation in the investigation. And we’re sharing different ideas on how to best accomplish that, and that conversation is ongoing.
QUESTION: P.J., one related to that, the foreign ministers of Germany and Italy said today that they believe that the Quartet should be involved in the investigation to help its credibility. Do you like that idea? Does that seem like a plausible --
MR. CROWLEY: There are – Arshad, there are a variety of ways to accomplish this. I don’t think we’ve centered on any particular way at this point.
QUESTION: Do you have any favorite way?
MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.) No. I mean, ultimately --
QUESTION: That the United States would like to see?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, you’ve got to work backwards. We want to see an impartial, credible, prompt, thorough investigation, and we are talking about the best way to get from here to there. And we recognize that international participation, which lends itself to countries and entities being able to vouch for the results of the investigation, that will be an essential element to putting this tragedy behind us and then, hopefully, creating some additional trust and momentum to get us to our ultimate destination, which is an agreement that ends the conflict once and for all.
QUESTION: But the ambassador – respectfully, Ambassador Oren’s been all over the airwaves, all but saying that everything’s going to be internal. And there’s nothing impartial about an internal investigation.
MR. CROWLEY: And we’re in conversation with the Israelis and others about how to best accomplish this.
QUESTION: So you’re saying there still is a possibility of international participation in the investigation itself?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: Change (inaudible) topic?
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. All right, hold on.